Stroll The Esoteric Garden [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Lately, I am strolling the esoteric gardens and have picked for you these wild blossoms.

First, my favorite quotes of the week:

  1. “Life is mysterious and transcends logic, so the living thing can never be fully analysed, taught or learned…The doctor may explain why the patient is dead, but never why the patient is alive.” [Declan Donnellan].

2. “Samuel Beckett is a wonderful writer who has meditated deeply on the mystery of death…All of Beckett’s works, especially Waiting For Godot, are about death. In other words, because death exists, time is radically relativized. All we do here is invent games to pass the time.” [John O’Donohue]

DogDog and BabyCat are food-driven. The levels of excitement in our house escalate when the food bowls are filled. DogDog performs his vertical-jump-and-counter-clockwise-spin dance. BabyCat uncorks an excited verbal symphony that sounds a lot like “now, now, now, now, now…” The anticipation of the bowl, it seems, is far more satisfying than eating of the food from the bowl. The anticipation lasts longer and I am certain that, in the gobbling, neither DogDog or BabyCat actually taste their food.

3. “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” ~ Mr. Spock. I laughed the first time I heard this in an episode of Star Trek. Capitalism reduced to a simple, single phrase. The economics of desire, wanting and having en route to wanting.

I have crossed paths with many a seeker. Mostly, they talk of presence or mindfulness or being as a noun. A thing to achieve or possess or gobble. Food in a bowl. The anticipation of unity in a path devoted to separation, thus, we are seekers. The Buddhist’s remedy to the dedication of separation is to chop wood and carry water. In other words, being is a verb.

With the notable exception of how-to-go-on-a-walk-without-pulling-our arms-out-of-the-socket, using the promise of a treat, Kerri can teach DogDog anything. There is no end to the tricks he will perform, the indignities he will suffer, en route to a treat. He sneezes on cue. He counts, high-fives, sits, jumps up, jumps down, wears paper plates on his head…his little Aussie body quakes with excitement, his eyes firmly locked on the promised treat.

We wrinkle our brows daily and ask, “How can they possibly believe that?” Horatio would respond, “It’s game theory. What are the incentives, the promised pay off?” Anticipation. Treat. We might as well ask, “How did hate, division and lie become food in the human bowl?’ There is no end to the tricks people will perform, the lies they will embrace, the funny hats they will wear, the indignities they will suffer or inflict, eyes firmly locked on a promised treat. Superiority. Or mattering?

I have crossed paths with many a power player. Mostly, they talk of winning, and owning, and being-on-the-top. There is never enough food for the bowl. The anticipation of achieving abundance through eyes that only perceive a pie with limited pieces. Owning this piece and then the next and the next and the next…

“Life is mysterious and transcends logic.”

Yearning meets obstacle.* The strange alchemy necessary to invent a story.

Dogs and cats living together, oh my!

“All we do here is invent games to pass the time.” I wonder, as I wander through my esoteric garden, what might it take for us to invent more inclusive, life-giving games, a more generous story?

*this definition of story courtesy of Robert Olen Butler

read Kerri’s less esoteric blog post on ANTICIPATION

Listen To The Lake [on KS Friday]

The sun poured in the window this morning. We sat in it. No, we basked in it, ate breakfast, sipped coffee. Simple pleasures. Endless appreciation. We reminisced about our childhood homes. Kerri recalled the layout of the den. I described the kitchen in my growing-up house. We remembered cooking smells and Formica table tops.

Our story zones expanded to include the many chapters of our lives. Multiple eras. Times that seemed as if they would never end. Times that passed too quickly. We imagined a day when we would reminisce about these times, pandemic times, both the hardships and the appreciations. For instance, in our isolation, we’ve created an end-of-the-work-day-ritual called ‘snack time.’ A glass of wine, french fries hot from the oven or a pear and cheese. Olives. We sit at the table we placed by the window, watch the day wane, and savor. I suspect snack time, borne of the pandemic, will be with us for the rest of our lives.

When in my old age I tell the story of the pandemic times, when the hardships fade in importance (as they always do), I will tell the tale of life slowed down. I will remember how limits made movement less frenetic and much more mindful. Rather than doing more, we pared down. We did less and experienced more. We placed increased importance on the simple things. In fact, we placed importance on the important things. Connecting with friends and family, not out of obligation or unconscious pattern, but out of necessity and intention.

I will talk about our walks, already central to our daily happiness, how they took on a wholly new significance. Getting out and walking became an exercise in paying attention, in absolute appreciation of the simple miracles. Affirmations of life. The magic appearance of the robins on a frigid day. The sunset bringing fire to the ice in the harbor.

I will tell the story of the day we were stopped in our tracks by the song of the ice on the lake. It sounded like whale song. I will tell the story of standing still in blistering cold, listening in utter amazement until ours eyes watered and our fingertips burned, until we looked at each other and in unison said, “Snack time!”

read Kerri’s blog post about LAKE SONG

Snap [on KS Friday]

“Whenever the question comes up,/ the poets all say the same thing:/ the only poem we are interested in is in the next room,/ the one not written, the poem of tomorrow.” ~ Billy Collins, The Next Poem

I am trying not to focus on the next. The next chapter. The next day. This is a day of my life even if it is unfolding in a time of pandemic, of jobs lost, careers collapsed, broken-wrists-not-healing and my father’s slow disappearance.

Yesterday was hard. I made it so. Even before noon I was wishing the day away. I was anxious to get to the next. To stick a fork in it. Then, when the truck wouldn’t start, it was all too much. I could have shaken my fist at the sky but instead I decided to stop trying to be someplace else. I decided to feel the hurt. Be in the day.

I miss my studio. That’s not quite right. I miss myself in my studio. I miss how I feel when I am working in it. Timeless. In that place, there is no next. In that place, I feel good, all things become possible. It is a staircase away. These days, it might as well be on the moon.

Mary Oliver wrote, “Next time what I’d do is look at/ the earth before saying anything.” This seems to me, as I approach a birthday, an age marker, a sunrise unlike any other, to be sage advice. See the miracle before I diminish it with my thinking, before I jam it into sackcloth with my opinions.

Once, on a bitter cold day, feeling blue, I leaned back against a red brick wall and closed my eyes. I felt the sun warm my bones and, in a snap, wanted to be no where else on earth. Try as you might, you cannot take that from me, the sun. The warmth against that wall. The absence of next. The boundless power of the snap.

read Kerri’s blog post about NEXT

Pay Attention [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I read this morning in my brainpickings, “We have to try and cure our faults by attention and not by will.” Simone Weil.

Kerri and I walk almost everyday. We head for our known, usual trails, and only occasionally go in search of something new. Even though we walk a well-known path, it never fails to seem entirely new. Kerri attends to the details, taking photographs of unusual pine cones, a downy feather on a limb, the sun streaming through the trees. She pays attention. My awareness is more global, the movement of forest, the orchestra and dance of trees and wind. I pay attention.

Our walks bring us perspective when all else seems dark and disorderly. Our walks refill our well of hope when our circumstance seems bleak. Mostly, our walks “cure our faults,” they bring us into a present moment where all of life’s judgments and fears fall away as the illusions that they are. Our walks, if only for a few hours, wipe clean our canvas and return us to a childlike curiosity.

Sometimes, after a snowfall, we arrive at our trail and it is untouched. It never fails that we stand at the trailhead and marvel at the unblemished snow. Sometimes we hold hands and jump in with both feet and laugh. Sometimes we step carefully, quietly. Reverently. Either way, it seems a special gift. First steps are to be noted. Last steps are to be noted.

This morning I read an article about How Aging Shapes Narrative Identity. How the story-we-tell-ourselves-about-ourselves changes as we age. Our investments change. We become less interested in pursuits and achievements, in willful purpose. We become more interested in appreciation of our precious, limited moments. And, so, we begin to tell a different story. New snow on an old path.

The article was timely. Kerri and I lay awake most of the night. Among other things we pondered my dad’s dementia, the stories that he weaves and realities he inhabits. He is obsessed with going home.

Deep in the night, we talked about the stories that we currently weave together as we grow older. It seems that this time in our lives is a blank canvas, a path of new and untouched snow. Standing at the trailhead of our next chapter, no steps to follow or map, neither of us has any desire to reinvent or become different than what we are. Certainly, the circumstances of our lives are changing, but more and more we merely want to pay attention. To hold hands and jump into the unbroken snow. To laugh. To note the downy feather in the tree. The wind song, the deer that surprise us, leaping through tall grasses. “Did you see them?” I whisper. Kerri nods and smiles. Reverence. Nothing in the world, at that moment, is more important.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNBROKEN SNOW

Emerge Changed [on KS Friday]

This moment “is the place of pilgrimage to which I am a pilgrim.” Paul Murray

Columbus’ journey into dementia has reminded me once again that time is not a linear thing. We cycle as surely as the tides, the seasons, the days that move into night and back again. Each and every moment a pilgrimage, as poet Paul Murray writes, in which we are both pilgrim and the target of our pilgrimage. We journey to discover ourselves. As Columbus moves deeper into his world, I know the separation, the distance from him that I experience is necessary. He must walk alone into this season of his pilgrimage.

Walking the snowy trail a few days ago I asked Kerri about the experience of losing her father, I asked if it necessitated a life review. She told me that, when she thinks of her dad, she is filled with the impression of who he was; she rarely thinks or even remembers events. She viscerally feels his love. She knows his spirit. “I never think about his achievements or how much money he made – all the stuff we get lost in,” she said, “but I fully remember who he was.”

We are in transition. All jobs lost. Broken wrists challenging artistry as it was. Every day it begs us to consider who we are within our circumstance. Who are we if we are no longer that? “Our spirits are high. We take one day at a time,” I just wrote in a letter. It’s true. That is who we are. That, at this present moment, is all we are. Pilgrims walking.

I am, like my dad, in a “winter” in the cycle of time. He pulls in. I am also pulling in. To rest. To reflect. To rejuvenate. Pilgrim and pilgrimage, both. Each moment an unbroken circle. Each moment in transition. The old shell is too small. Someday, it will of necessity split. Columbus will emerge changed into his new world. I will emerge changed into mine.

in transition/released from the heart is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about IN TRANSITION

in transition/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Take The Opportunity [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Paul used to teach his actors that, in choosing to step onto a stage, they had a profound responsibility. “Never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life,” he’d say. I took his lesson and passed it along to my students. I hope that a few of my students took Paul’s lesson and, in turn, passed it on. You have a responsibility.

Another lesson I learned, this time from Jim, was that great acting is about standing in truth. “Acting is the honest pursuit of an intention in imaginary circumstances.” Honest pursuit. It’s a misunderstanding to equate the art of acting with pretending. The circumstances are pretend. Actors are meant to be portals to a shared story, a channel to a common experience. They transport. They transform. “Never underestimate your power…”

John O’Donohue writes that the soul does not inhabit a body. It’s the other way around: bodies live within the soul. We only think we are isolated individuals, bubbles. The bubble is singular, soul, and we play our small dramas within it. We fill our bubble by how we stand in it, by what we bring into it. There is no on-stage or off. It’s all the stage.

The other day I was exhausted. I was standing on the edge of despair when my phone dinged. It was Rob. “What kind of wine do you like?” he texted. The edge disappeared.

From across the country, MM sends me cartoons that make me smile. Horatio sent an episode of The Twilight Zone. “You gotta watch this,” he said. David sends photos of Dawson at the easel. There is nothing so freeing to an aging artist than to watch a child draw. No limits.

The bubble is singular. The soul of the earth. These good friends, living honestly on the stage, have no idea of their profound impact and influence on me.

These days, when I think of my good teachers and dedicated mentors, when I think of Jim and Tom McK and Paul, I know that, were I to teach again, I would add a small caveat to our legacy-lesson. I’d say, “In choosing to step onto the stage, you have a profound responsibility and opportunity: never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life.”

Take the opportunity. Each and every moment. Ripples sending ripples.

read Kerri’s blog post about SOUL OF THE EARTH

Stop The Chase [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s difficult, seemingly Pollyanna-ish, to write about love when our nation is now officially divided and living in two combating realities. When Kerri took this photo on our back deck, I knew it was going to make an appearance in the Melange. “It will be tough to write about given the events of this week, the realities of our divided nation,” I said to no one listening.

I was wrong. The more I pondered this heart in the snow, the more I saw a simple theme, the thing we always miss. It is at the core of almost all spiritual teaching and personal revelation: stop the chase.

Krishnamurti wrote that “Love is a fact, not an emotion.” It cannot be found precisely because it is omnipresent. It is everywhere. It is everything. However, it can be easily missed, especially when covered in a blanket of righteousness. Love will sit patiently and wait for those who believe love to be a separate thing, something to be earned or discovered in the eyes of an other. We recently, through Zoom, sat Shivah for someone dear who had passed. The Rabbi read these words from a poem, “Love doesn’t die, people do. So when all that’s left of me is Love, give me away.”

Viktor Frankel wrote that “Happiness ensues.” It follows. It cannot be pursued or attained.

I can’t tell you how many countless hours I’ve spent with groups who desire to attain presence. To achieve mindfulness. It is nigh-on impossible to convey to achievers that presence cannot be pursued. It’s simple if you think about it: presence comes when ambition disappears. Presence and love. The desire to be anywhere else, to achieve anything, to become something other than what you are in this moment, precludes presence, interrupts love. Allow it; it’s already there.

It is anathema to suggest to modern seekers that they will find what they seek by ceasing to seek. Ha! It is the ultimate collision, in a culture steeped in achievement-as-a-central-tenet, that love, happiness, presence, mindfulness are unachievable – but infinitely available when standing still.

“You can love me most by letting me live in your eyes, And not on your mind,” the Rabbi read. See beyond what you think.

Division lives in the mind. What we seek, what we most need in this historic moment, cannot be found there. What we seek will become apparent – readily available – when we stop the chase, drop the destructive delusion of manifest destiny and its many separation-shadows – and, even for a moment – stand still.

read Kerri’s blog post about HEART

Do It For Yourself [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I have been writing long enough to know that there are sedimentary layers to my themes. The top layer, the most superficial, is the political layer, current events. I am not above shouting into the storm. When I run to the keyboard and ring the alarm or presume that my point of view is relevant enough to roundly criticize others, I know that, above all, I’m breaking the first rule of happiness: I can never determine what another person thinks or does or feels. On my superficial days, in my ranting, I write for myself.

When I was at my saddest, I set about looking for goodness. I walked the streets of Seattle with the single intention of counting acts of kindness. As you might suspect there were more than I could count. In this world where we story ourselves as aggressive, unthinking and unkind, we are remarkably compassionate. Good will is simply more difficult to see. It is not the focus. The deeper layers of my writing-archaeology emerge when I direct my attention, when I exercise the artist in me and attempt to see beyond what I think. Since these are the layers where I desire to live and work, I suppose it is also true that on those days I also write for myself.

It is a looping life-lesson for me: I have the capacity to choose where I place my focus. I will see in the dark ocean where I decide to shine my light. I will author myself according to what/where I decide to give my focus. It is, among other things, why the film ABOUT TIME is among my favorite movies.

Lately, as one of our get-through-the-pandemic-winter-strategies, we’ve taken to assembling jigsaw puzzles. Entire evenings disappear into our intense pursuit of pieces. Our puzzle sessions require absolute focus – all of the other nonsense and monsters that vie to plague our brains are banished. Our focus is so thorough that we rarely speak. We do, however, listen to the soundtrack of ABOUT TIME. Again and again. When it finishes, one of us walks to the CD player (yes…we play CDs) and play it again. Sometimes we don’t make it past the first track, Ben Fold’s THE LUCKIEST. “Do you mind?” one of us asks. It’s a rhetorical question. It warms us so a repeat is always welcome.

Sitting at the dining room table, hunting for bits of colored cardboard, with the soundtrack playing, all things come into focus. While the surface-layer is on fire with a circus of instability, a pandemic, a climate that is changing, all jobs gone, a broken wrist that is not mending,…the deeper layer beckons: DogDog sits under the table, BabyCat is asleep on the chair, 20 just called and made us laugh, a postcard from Jen made us cry, my phone dinged with a text from a dear friend. I look across the table at my wife, pursing her lips as she plucks a piece of the puzzle from the table and attempts to make it fit, and I know to my bones that I am the luckiest.

To see it or not to see it; it’s my choice.

read Kerri’s blog post about REPEAT

Balance The Opposites [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Skip told me that the only problem Kerri and I would face is that we are both CEO personalities but come at it from entirely different directions. Truer words were never spoken! For instance, when we walk, my eyes are generally in the sky pondering the greater meaning of the universe while Kerri’s eyes are on the ground looking for a cool photo op. I see big pictures and she is a master of detail. I am easily lost in thought and she is snagged in nuance. Most of our wranglings are hysterical arguments for the same thing but from diametrically opposed points of view; we are quite capable of making agreement sound like dissent. Word magic.

Our walks, with my eyes in the sky and hers on the ground, have become a metaphor for why we are so good for each other. She pulls my eyes to the ground. I pull her eyes into the sky. I’ve recently been awed by a nurse log covered in ice crystals, the lines running through a tiny rock, the composition of a fallen pine branch in undisturbed snow. She helps me see in life what I easily miss. It’s a paradox – from my view at 30,000 feet – pulling my eyes to the ground is expansive. I see more. I appreciate more. I stop and look. It is my favorite paradox that, in our house, I’m considered the visual artist but she is teaching me to see.

Balance. It comes from opposition. Like a yoga pose, energy sent in opposite directions creates stable grounding. It creates space, creative tension. Center.

When Terry was teaching me to scuba dive he often instructed me to “get neutral.” He was Buddhist and his teaching was as much spiritual as it was practical. “Getting neutral” meant not to struggle. Maintain or change depth with breathing. Inhale or exhale. “Getting neutral” meant not to swim through the dive like a tourist but to be in it. Be in the enormous power of the ocean. Balance the opposites. Begin with your breathing.

On the trail, Kerri often stops, kneels close to the ground, focusing her camera. “I love this,” she whispers. “This is beautiful.” She carefully frames her shot. “Do you want to see?” she asks, standing after taking a few shots.

“Yes.” I say. “Yes, I do.”

read Kerri’s blog post about UNDISTURBED

Pursue The Quiet [on KS Friday]

If I were going to write an autobiography I’d call it IN PURSUIT OF QUIET. Drawing has always quieted my mind. The simple act of descending the stairs into my studio has the same effect. I’ve learned that it is not the picture on the page or the image on the canvas that I’m chasing, it is the quiet mind I enjoy.

When I was a teenager, Mahlon and I drove into the mountains, hiked through the snow and set up camp. It was so quiet, the cold wind whispering through the treetops, the only meaningful voice in the conversation.

During the first winter that Kerri and I spent together, the snow was a siren call. We had to go into it. More than once, late at night, we’d bundle up and walk and walk and walk. The sound of our feet crunching newly fallen snow, the wind off the lake – no words necessary.

I reread what I wrote on this day last year, the first day of the new year. I vilified the previous year. I spouted hope for a better year to come. I know better now. It’s best to be quiet. It’s best to reserve judgment, to stay far away from “should-be” or “might-have-been.” It’s best to stand on the back deck, face to the sky, feel the flakes hit my face, and appreciate…all of it. Every last bit of it.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOW WHISPERS

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